Mindsets and the Pauli Effect

On Saturday, I went to the ‘science fiction future’ event at the BFI on the South Bank in London. The afternoon was a mixed affair but one of the speakers, Lydia Nicholas, made a very interesting comment during her entertaining talk on biology. She quoted a biologist who said:

"Cell work is so sensitive. Some times I wonder if the success of my experiment is down to whether I'm feeling happy or sad that day."

The quote generated laughter in the room but I wondered, surely a scientist would be intrigued by this experience? He or she might say to themselves; this is an interesting phenomenon. I'm noticing a pattern of behaviour. Is this phenomenon repeatable? If it is repeatable, I'd know it is a reliable, measurable phenomenon. If it is, then I've extended my knowledge of the world around me. I can then write up my experiments and distribute the information to others. That way, others can be made aware of what I've found. Ideally, one or more of them will conduct the experiments too and they can report whether or not they found the same effect. I can perform a set of experiments and in each one, record my own state of mind, giving my level of happiness a scale of one to ten, then carry out the cell work and record the results. It would be a relatively inexpensive task and if the phenomenon is real, it would be a big step forward in understanding how reality works. If the phenomenon isn't reliable, then I can conclude that it was purely a concoction on my part.

All of this seems reasonable and scientific. Unfortunately, it's never going to happen. The biologist concerned will know several things for absolute certain. Firstly, that it is an OFFICIAL BELIEF that his own state of mind cannot affect the behaviour of the cells he's working on. Secondly, that if he ignores this law and does carry out the experiments, his academic standing will be destroyed. It won't matter if he carries out the work thoroughly and diligently and writes it up carefully and intelligently, his reputation will still be shot. He won't get funding for any more research, no one will employ him at labs and his career will be over. He'll have to abandon biological research and leave the field entirely and find some way to keep paying the mortgage and feeding his kids. Hey ho.

Interestingly, the quote above isn't a new idea. Wolfgang Pauli was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist working in the twentieth century in Europe. The Pauli exclusion principle, a key aspect of quantum physics, was named after him, but Pauli also became famous for something else. This is known as the Pauli Effect. The Pauli Effect was the strange tendency of equipment to fail if Pauli was in the vicinity which, according to multiple reports, happened numerous times. In fear of the Pauli effect, the experimental physicist Otto Stern banned Pauli from his laboratory in Hamburg despite their friendship. If Pauli wished to discuss a theoretical or experimental matter with Stern, Stern would insist on conducting the discussion with Pauli on the other side of the laboratory door. To quote directly from Wikipedia, "An incident occurred in the physics laboratory at the University of Göttingen. An expensive measuring device, for no apparent reason, suddenly stopped working, although Pauli was in fact absent. James Franck, the director of the institute, reported the incident to his colleague Pauli in Zürich with the humorous remark that at least this time Pauli was innocent. However, it turned out that Pauli on a railway journey to Copenhagen switched trains in Göttingen rail station about the time of failure. The incident is reported in George Gamow's book 'Thirty Years That Shook Physics', where it is also claimed the more talented the theoretical physicist, the stronger the effect. R. Peierls describes a case when at one reception this effect was to be parodied by deliberately crashing a chandelier upon Pauli's entrance. The chandelier was suspended on a rope to be released, but it stuck instead, thus becoming a real example of the Pauli effect."

The Pauli Effect is a fun story, but it is also profound. Many of the famous physicists, astrophysicists and mathematicians of Pauli's generation concluded that our minds creates reality. It was the only way, they could see, that quantum physics could be logically explained. This fascinating matter is covered in my illustrated story 'Chloë's Quantum Quest'. Such a view also creates a very different mindset. Someone with that view would see reality as a collaborative, spiritual creation. Reality becomes a tangible result of the state of our minds, our spirits. Reality becomes a plant we're nurturing. If we're crappy in the heads, the plant will die and we can't avoid responsibility for what has happened because reality is us, collectively, the sum total of all living minds and the Original Mind that created reality in the first place.

By comparison, the mindset that arises from materialism is that reality is something separate to us, something that we don't affect. This view gives us the feeling that we can pretty much do what we like and the clockwork universe will keep on running regardless. It's no surprise that climate change is growing like a tidal wave, because such a mindset encourages unrestrained personal behaviour. By comparison, the mindset in which reality is a plant we're nurturing does the opposite; it gives us importance but also a palpable responsibility.

Which one should we be using? In some ways, the arguments over which is right is irrelevant because the materialism mindset is going to kill us in the long term. The process is already under way, thanks to climate change. Eventually, if we last that long, the human race will accept that 'our mental states affect the world around us', because it's the only mindset that will ensure our long term survival.